‘The Little Prince’ from a region in my heart

‘His hope of coming back and correcting his wrong have always floated into the whole flow of the story which were so pure and innocent – acts that we sometimes associate with weakness.’

Advertisements

I WAS seven when I first met him. A fleck of dust besmeared his face; his curly, golden hair and stylish, scarlet ribbon bow tie were pictured to have been enslaved by the wind freely drifting from a corner of his planet scarcely bigger than himself; his pale green coat’s motif suggested it was of foreign origin – from another universe even; his vision casted into the unknown while standing upright next to what looked like a tiny, active volcano spewing smoke and fumes. He was frozen in time. Alone. On a book’s front cover.

Written by French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the thin, minuscule book was titled, “The Little Prince.” The story was about a pilot who was forced to land in the Sahara and encountered a mysterious young boy who claimed to be an extraterrestrial prince.

I intently stared at the book’s cover and paused for its strangeness. Then, I swiped the dust covering the little prince’s face with a piece of cloth. His eyes and nose and lips were minute dots or lines delicately plotted on a peculiar canvas. In a blink, a sensation ran through my veins like a river flowing tranquilly. It was as if he invited me in for an adventure – a black hole that came with a cathartic magnificence for an absence that has been lurking inside. There’s no way I could resist that.

You have to understand that I was never a book reader then. Just like most of the children my age in our neighborhood, I didn’t find pleasure in discovering fictional worlds created by minds I knew nothing about.

When the little prince had decided to leave his tiny planet to comprehend what love is after a rose with four thorns baffled his consciousness, he met a king, a conceited man, a tippler, a businessman, a lamplighter, a geographer, a fox, and an aviator.

During his stay on the seventh planet, on Earth, with the aviator, his loyalty to the lone rose on his planet has always been there. His hope of coming back and correcting his wrong have always floated into the whole flow of the story which were so pure and innocent – acts that we sometimes associate with weakness.

The little prince made me realize that there’s beauty and romance and dignity in self-discovery. He taught me that the best things in life can never be brought by the acquisition of what we’ve been working hard for and of what we’re expecting understandably well, but the silent arrival of the unseen, yes, of the mysterious gifts we have been unknowingly longing for which sometimes reveal themselves with a fleck of dust from an untouched region in our hearts. Because ultimately, what is essential is invisible to the eyes.

Truth be told, similar to what happened in our first encounter, I wasn’t expecting to see him about a month ago. I went on a visit to a bookstore closest to my workplace to inquire about the availability of a George Saunders book titled, “Tenth of December.” But there he was, stationed at a shelf near the entrance; something has changed in him. He was much bigger, his golden, curly hair was more radiant, and the intensity of the color of his coat was finer. He looked a little bit different from the one I had met one afternoon when I was seven who vanished when we moved in to our current home. A metamorphosis at its absolute form.

And as I was about to leave the bookstore, the cashier with a smile on her face asked me, “Sir, how about this one?” She waved in the air a copy of “The Little Prince” I had placed close to her station. Then, strangely, I found myself giving a ready answer I’ll never forget.

“I’ll keep him this time.”

On Love

‘And so, I hope you celebrate love with those who see you beyond your skin; those who look at you not just as a fleeting specimen in a universe that keeps on moving.’

IF YOU’RE single now and has no one to date with, it doesn’t mean that you’re supposed to feel lonely. It’s a state of mind. You’re unattached because you’re taking your time. You don’t want to settle. You want the one who’s yet to arrive to be The One. You’ve probably been hurt just recently, or you’ve never been in a relationship before, but that means you have an opportunity to discover yourself more – your gifts, your faults, your aspirations.

Some people dive into a relationship without a clear sense of who they are; they are befuddled on how to set boundaries; they’re clueless on what their expectations embody.

As you probably observed, conflict happens when miscommunication gets into the picture yes, when trust is tainted with infidelity and secrecy. Some of us think that a sensual message to a third-party won’t hurt the relationship; that it’s just a senseless game. But as days pass by, they’re succumbed to the claws of darkness, of forgetting all the words and promises they uttered. And one wonders how easy it is for them to move on; how convenient it is to jump from one fence to another.

Others think that everything’s going to be perfect. Their minds are still immature to the implications of saying “yes” to someone. There are those who give those they love access to everything they have even if they’re unprepared to its effects up to the point that they can no longer recognize who they are. They think of the other person as their world, and when that person commits a mistake, they treat their whole existence to be in vain. And that’s when they part ways. They can no longer endure the presence of who used to be their better half.

Because true love dwells to those who are willing to sacrifice and suffer. Nobody can expect each day to be light and tender and soothing. There will be bricks along the way and the only option is to get over them and to treat them not as fragments of hindrance, but as foundations to a long-lasting union.

To love is to give the other person a spacious, decent, and comfortable room to breathe, to be free to reach for their personal goals and full potential, and to have a voice on valuable causes as a contributor in building a brighter future for humanity. It may sound too momentous, mammoth-like even for some, but we do not exist to solely please one person and give their wants and needs. We’re here to unmask the greater reason of living. That day will come that all your frustrations will just be part of the past.

And so, I hope you celebrate love with those who see you beyond your skin; those who look at you not just as a fleeting specimen in a universe that keeps on moving. Because you deserve better and when the right person arrives, you’ll know it. Your heart will speak to them like you’ve known them before. And that moment is going to be so much more special than the maelstrom of flowers and chocolates presented on any given time of the day.

Beautiful things unfold in His time.

This Time Around, Trust That It Will Get Better

‘We’re in this puzzle of existence reaching out to the unknown, figuring out what makes sense, doing what’s good as dictated organically by our hearts.’

Lost in Traslacion

‘A merciful, kind, and loving God does not call that one loses oneself and physically suffer for the world to see or be a catalyst for his neighbors to be in agony.’

WHEN I was little, there’s a feast in our old neighborhood in the country’s financial capital that we tirelessly observed after the New Year celebration has died down.

Dressed in scarlet t-shirts with the supposed image of Jesus Christ at the center, jubilant, high-spirited men in their twenties, thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties talked about their strategies on how to get closer to the ‘Poon’ during the ‘Traslacion’- the transfer of the black image of Jesus Christ from San Nicolas de Tolentino in Intramuros to the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo in Manila.

“You should be the lead since you’re the strongest” one of them said.

“What if we line up this way?” another one added. “Will this work?”

It was intense. Such mood enraptured my imagination. It was as if they’d go into a war like seasoned soldiers only that they’re not allowed to bring anything with them. And yes, no slippers and shoes on.

I expressed my desire to join the euphoria but I was turned-down right away. I was only seven years old.

“It’s not for children” Mang Kaloy said, who’s one of their most vocal leaders. “Just play basketball.”

On the day of the festivity, the footages of the coverage of news organizations disturbed me when I saw them the first time.

Cavalcade of devotees. Wiping of the cross or foot of the image with a cloth. Shouts. Cries. Emergency. Difficulty in breathing. Heart attack. Stretchers. Casualties. Death.

Chaos was all over. Everybody wanted to have a grip of the cord of Black Nazarene. And then, as my mind wandered, I got lost. Is this what Catholic faith looks like? Is this what God wants to happen?

If we’ll look at the Traslacion 2018 data, one devotee died and as many as eight hundred were injured. Can’t you imagine the total number of casualties since this activity started? These may just be mere figures for some, but these require a closer examination.

When our youngest brother told me four years ago that he’d continue the devotion of my deceased father to the Black Nazarene, a hollow deep inside me resurfaced into my consciousness. Suddenly, my childhood horrors to this brutal affair all came back in my memory like a boomerang that successfully stitched all the gaps of the years that have elapsed.

“Isn’t it too dangerous?” I told him. “Can you just not join them?”

“No, kuya” my brother said. “It’s for tatay.”

But is it biblical?

In Deuteronomy 5:7-9 (King James Version), it says: “Thou shalt have none other gods before me. Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me,.”

If the main basis of the Catholic faith is the Bible, why then are they continuously transgressing such commandment? Clearly, the Black Nazarene is a graven image or an idol as described by the holy scriptures.

Or at least, can’t the leadership of the Catholic church in our country impose regulations and guidelines to its members for a safer execution of ‘Traslacion’? If the everyday challenge of riding our trains can be controlled, a once-a-year event such as this can be solved.

In an ABS-CBN News report dated January 9, 2018, in relation to the statements given by Manila Archbishop Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, it stated: “’May our participation in the different activities during the feast lead us in deeply knowing Jesus, Tagle was quoted as saying by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) News on Monday. Reflecting on this year’s theme ‘Black Nazarene: The way, the truth, and the life’, he also called on the faithful take a closer look at Christ. ‘He is the way to the father. He is the truth that we’ve been looking for. He is the one who can give us and the society life.’”

In the end, we should as a society search for a better way. We should search for truth and practice our faith without compromising others. We can’t just be silent observers of an annual savage religious activity where millions of lives are on the line. For our relatives, for our friends, and for our fellowmen. A merciful, kind, and loving God does not call that one loses oneself and physically suffer for the world to see or be a catalyst for his neighbors to be in agony.

Let’s preserve life and don’t let the scarlet shirts the barefooted devotees are wearing be their last.

In search of solace

‘You’re reminded that this life is just a fleeting illusion; that you’re a humble traveler; and that this may come to an end in a snap. Today, you’re a towering figure of physique and fitness; tomorrow could be a different story. It’s not promised.’

I STARED at it for about five minutes yesterday at one in the morning. An untitled painting that measures roughly 4 feet by 3, it was displayed on a private hospital’s wall on the third floor with a maelstrom of kaleidoscopic koi of divergent sizes swimming around an imaginary cylinder clockwise under a dark blue water. The artwork was strangely cut into half vertically and was hanging slightly slanted 15 degrees to the right. The others which boasted abstract flashes of colors and astronomic designs stationed at different sections of the corridor were not presented the same way. I was absorbed and drawn by it; its peculiarity intrigued me.

I was all alone, wide awake, sitting on a brown, foamy bench outside the capacious visitors’ room, where my mom was sleeping, just ten feet away from the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). The breeze was frigid; it was raining outside. I was waiting for the doctor to come out of the ICU to check for an update on one of my brothers’ condition. He had a mild stroke while sharing a meal with his own family in their house in Cavite City, south of Manila. Coincidentally, I was on a three-day vacation leave for my birthday. But how would you celebrate your birthday knowing that your family is amid a crisis?

 “Kuya Jun Jun is in the hospital” my youngest brother Ronnel said. 

“Why?” I uttered. “What happened?”

“High blood, probably” he said. “He had seizure.” In a heartbeat, my mother and I swiftly stuffed our bags with clothes and toiletries like soldiers about to engage in a daring hunt in a deserted forest. 

It must be very serious, I said to myself.

“To a hospital in General Trias, Cavite” I told the first cab driver who halted outside our small, white gate when he inquired where we’re headed at around ten on a Sunday evening. “Please, it’s an emergency, sir.”

“I’m not going south” he answered. And just like that with one of the side windows still half-open, he hastily left.

A huge weight of our exasperation and distress vanished when the next cab driver accepted our pleas. He had brought us to a terminal in Pasay City where we instantly found a bus that took us to our destination.

While travelling, thoughts came rushing on my mind like bolts of lightning in a stormy sky: it’s kuya Jun Jun and our memories together. Yes, our late-night conversations about religion, spirituality, wisdom, mysteries, science and technology, work. His brilliance and depth on a range of topics is impeccable. Tears abruptly rolled down my face. My mother did not witness it. 

When we arrived at the hospital, my mother and I were met with stories on what had transpired earlier that day. Plates flying in the air. Chicken tinola splattering all over. Convulsion. Lips turning black. Eyes moving involuntarily. Wailing children. Panic. Chaos.

But Emergency Rooms, ICUs, Dialysis Centers, and others put everything in perspective. In those moments that you’re encapsulated by impenetrable brick structures painted white all over, everything boils down to that quiet conversation between you and God. The rest of the universe becomes irrelevant: traffic and scandals on EDSA, inflation, MRT woes, #MeToo, possibilities with the person you admire most, child abuse, fake news, typhoons, President Duterte, war on drugs, Facebook and Instagram, poverty, corruption, politics, education, South West Monsoon, career aspirations, a taxicab’s plate number. You forget about them like transitory slides in your memory not to invalidate their value but to solve and face what’s urgent. Maybe, it’s the brain’s natural response in emergency situations. 

You’ve probably been there before. You asked why and wondered why it all happened. Yes, why it had to be you or your family.

You know all the answers to these inquiries by heart, but still, there’s a strange, ineluctable sensation when you’re amid it all – existing, breathing, and convincing yourself to be brave in the challenge given to you. You’re reminded that this life is just a fleeting illusion; that you’re a humble traveler; and that this may come to an end in a snap. Today, you’re a towering figure of physique and fitness; tomorrow could be a different story. It’s not promised.

You hope. You say your prayer without anybody noticing. You reach out to a higher being in spite of all your flaws, faults, and shortcomings, Because the situation is beyond the grasp of your hands, of your humanity, of everyone who knows you.

Then, you pause. You can see the minute, fine details. Paths become clearer. Because you believe that everything happens for a reason. You try to make sense of the test you’re faced with. With the waves of life arriving from every direction, it’s facile to forget the essence of one’s existence. Sometimes, in order for us to be reawakened and to reevaluate our decisions, our steps, and our mindset, inexplicable events have to transpire. And right there, in the mist of confusion, doubts, and tears, is where we can only genuinely ruminate what we’re made of.

In the hit thriller movie, A Quiet Place, a family must live life in silence while hiding from sightless extraterrestrial creatures with hypersensitive hearing, indestructible armored skin and attack anything that makes noise. In parallel to the reality, there are monsters in life that we have to deal with whether we like them or not. We have no idea how they look like, their form, or how they would affect us, but to survive and get through them, we have to stick with our principles and with our loved ones as a unit with trust, courage, and faith. 

In the end, after I had convinced myself to stand in front of the painting and equably fixed it in its place, the doctor informed me that kuya was no longer in the critical state. I expeditiously thanked God for his help and mercy. Then, I took a second look at the painting and discovered that there was a total of twenty-eight kaleidoscopic koi swimming around the imaginary cylinder. To my astonishment, it’s the same number of years I just turned to carry across my name on a frigid morning on my birthday. A coincidence? I refuse to think so. For me, it’s an incalculable gift sent from heaven.

In my grief, I found solace.

Dear Kuya Manny: Please retire at 60

‘Sports breathes from hope and to engage in sports is a way to relieve the different forms of stress of life. However, if used the improper way, it can be lethal. A promise of solace can be turned into a nightmare that can haunt the minds of people. That’s exactly what you did, Kuya.’

Dear Kuya Manny,

In a true Filipino fashion, can I call you ‘Kuya’ since I’ve always seen you as an older brother? How are you? How are the bruises? I hope you’re recovering well.

I learned that you had another bout when my sister’s husband called and inquired about its result while we’re having lunch last Sunday.

“Have you watched the fight?” my sister asked while holding her smartphone. “Who won?”

“What fight?” I responded.

“The Pacquiao fight” she replied. “You don’t know?”

I paused for a moment not just because of cluelessness but also because every little reason why I stopped caring about any news about you all came back to me. The horror you single-handedly inflicted into my consciousness three years ago saw the light of the tunnel again. Piece by piece. Detail by detail. Pound for pound.

May 3, 2015. Sunday. “The Fight of the Century.” It’s you versus Floyd Mayweather Jr. SM Megamall Cinema 3. Pay per view. 2 tickets. I was sitting next to my younger brother Ronnel. The 12-round match has ended. Jimmy Lennon Jr. announced the winner. Cheers were replaced by sighs. Nobody wanted to leave the theater. We were shocked. “Is that it?” the old man sitting across me shouted in exasperation. We waited for the climax of the movie pictured mentally by hundreds of millions of fans all over the world: Mayweather, the nemesis – blank-faced, defeated on the canvas after being hit by you in a barrage of uppercuts and right hooks. It never happened.

No, it’s not that we lost that made it unforgettable. It’s the difficult truth hidden behind the curtain that consumed me. You made me despise boxing. The sport died for me on that day.

During a post-fight interview, you revealed that you had entered that fight with a pre-existing shoulder injury and then further injured that area during the fourth round of the contest. When I heard this, my heart wanted to explode. I couldn’t believe it. It felt like I have been deceived with my two eyes wide open by you, the same man who had told in his pre-fight interview: “Don’t get nervous… I’m the one fighting, so relax.”

I watched every possible discussion that one can view online because of the hype everyone has poured for that momentous event. Boxing greats, analysts, and even superstars from other sports became involved and gave their take on who would emerge victorious. It was billed as the modern era’s Joe Frazier versus Muhammad Ali contest. But nobody saw it coming – the lie of the century.

Kuya, it was the first time in my entire life that I decided to buy tickets and watch a fight of yours on pay per view. I had watched all your previous fights on tv and on Youtube. To me and probably just like the million others around the world, it was an attempt to be part of history; to be able to tell myself decades later, if God will permit, that I was there with you in every blow, in every jab, in every hook. It was my humble way of supporting you. But again, I was wrong. You and your camp had a different view the entire time. The world expected a clash of titans with no injury report divulged to the public. Everyone assumed that you were at 100% or almost at the peak of your strength and so tickets have been sold out.

Kuya Manny, a few days after your Mayweather fight, I tried to convince myself that you had hidden the truth for the fight to not be postponed because the other camp might use it a reason to back out. I understand that you had been luring Mayweather for the fight to be realized for so many years. Is that more important than your integrity, reputation and dignity as a man? And just like that, you moved on from one fight to another as if nothing happened.

Sports breathes from hope and to engage in sports is a way to relieve the different forms of stress of life. However, if used the improper way, it can be lethal. A promise of solace can be turned into a nightmare that can haunt the minds of people. That’s exactly what you did, Kuya.

But who am I compared to your greatness? Why should I hold a grudge to you after everything that you’ve done? Is it too hard to forgive another human being and forget all the heartaches?

Whenever I see you in the news or whenever your name surfaces in my conversations with my colleagues and friends, I remember how you made me feel. You brought another exceptional dimension to the word “Filipino” in the international stage. You’re “The Filipino Pride” and “The People’s Champ” and you’ve shown the world what we’re made of.

Yours is a beautiful rags-to-riches story: a mighty warrior who became affluent because of his grit, passion, persistence, and determination. As a storyteller, I fell in love with it. Is it too much to ask for a story book ending in your part?

In his final NBA game, your good friend Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant astoundingly scored 60 points on 22 of 50 shooting against Utah Jazz in 2016. A number of spectators were standing and jumping in the Staples Center arena out of excitement. The mood was festive. Hollywood A-listers were in attendance. He was blessed with an epic ending which is rare for sports legends in history. He retired a winner. After bagging your 60th career win, you have the power to retire a champion.

At 2:43 of the 7th round, you convincingly showed the world what’s left in your tank after defeating the much younger Argentine boxer Lucas Matthysse by TKO and earned the WBA Welterweight title.

But just like a younger brother to his kuya, I hope you retire now from boxing and enjoy more time with your family and loved ones. I’m worried that you might seriously get hurt on your next fight and bid goodbye to the sport you’re passionate about because your mind and body have given up on you. I’m concerned about how your wife Jinkee, your kids, and mommy Dionisia would react if they’ll see you in an unspeakable state. You have nothing else to prove.

Also, please reach out to the LGBTQ+ community and all of those you have offended before. Embrace them with open arms and patiently search for the common ground for us to move forward. I believe you have the heart to spark a real change to the sufferings of our fellowmen. I pray that your health will be at its summit to battle against the more valuable, salient, and pressing issues and challenges that we face as a people in the future. Because your loss is our loss and your win is our win.

Finally, I hope you lend your ears this time.

Sincerely yours,

Ben

(Various versions of this piece appeared on The Sports Column, Read Boxing, Boxing Insider, and United States Sports Academy’s The Sport Digest in July, 2018.)

For Those Who Are Still Hurting, You Are Not Alone

NO, I’M not going to ask you to forget those who caused you pain; those who made you feel small; those who crumpled your person like a piece of paper with their declarations and actions. No, not now.

You know deep within you that you treated them fairly. You undressed your soul under the scorching heat of their presence even if little by little, you’re being burnt. When you smiled at them and whispered your dreams, all you were thinking was the future you’ll subtly paint together on a blank canvas; you were firmly holding your brush without knowing that they were about to let go of theirs.

You accepted them for their persistence. There was a radiant glow in your eyes. They cherished you more than anyone you crossed paths with. And for the first time, someone stared at you the same way you peer at the sunset. Heartfelt. Intimate. Poetic…

You remember everything like it happened yesterday: endless late-night conversations; surprises; secrets; passwords; contact numbers; favorite song, color, artist, coffee flavor, and travel destination; and yes, surreal moments.

You thought they were the one. You saw the signs you were looking for since childhood. You’ve been showered with sunrises. You sincerely whispered to the universe that if you’ll ever meet them, you’ll love them with all you have, with every cell of your body. You expected to set sail smoothly with them while holding their hands and you found yourself in a pit of desperation when you realized that you’ve mistaken; that everything was a fleeting illusion to your preconceived idea of romantic love.

Yes, doubts pierced through your heart. You shut off your closest friends and family and sought for an end to your sufferings. You imagined things you’ve never anticipated to ever invade your awareness.

They disrespected and betrayed you. They didn’t hear your pleas. They were self-absorbed. You convinced yourself that you’re supposed to suffer because that’s what the protagonists in some of the famed movies, novellas, and stories dictated the whole of humanity to be. Suddenly, you could no longer recognize who you are. Every snippet of your conviction, principle, and idealism was gone. And in your core, a burrow scored by their absence lurks like a fictional character who’s about to consume the remaining rays of hope you have. It was dark, murky, and leaden. But please, do not give in.

Let your pillows be witnesses to your grief. Cry and weep and wail until the river of tears dry up. Be consumed with the majestic beauty of literature and the arts. Courageously go on an adventure in other fields and dimensions you’ve never encountered before. Reinvigorate your to-do list. Do things at your own pace. Listen.

Listen to your friends and family when they attempt to comfort you. They’ve always been there for you at the glimpses of your best performances and achievements. Don’t deprive them to be with you at your worst. They saw you at the extent you can never visualize and translate into words in the past; they’ll surely accept you.

Listen to the one gazing at you from the future: the fiercer you. What is life if we get everything we want and prayed for at the moment we expected them to greet us? Where’s thrill, excitement, and pleasure in not challenging the maelstrom of hardships around us? Didn’t we question everything at one point, our decisions, our gifts, our value as a person?

Because today, I’m not asking you to forget the hurt and pain and trouble they inflicted on you; no, not even to show you the path and steps to forgiveness. Instead, may this remind you that there’s someone who believes in you; that in time, all wounds will be healed.

Meaning breathes from tales of triumphs, overcoming of odds, and facing life’s battles head-on. I hope you embrace the process and rediscover yourself all over again. And when the ashes of frustrations of the past subside on the horizon, may your desire to be a comeback story the same way millions of people on the face of this planet strive to do each day overwhelm your heart with interminable virility.

This is a gasping proof that you are not alone.

(Thought Catalog published this piece on the 3rd of May 2018.)